STOCKTON — Multicultural literature can serve as a doorway toward a better understanding of cultures, traditions and beliefs.

But when the books on the shelves don’t reflect — or when they negatively portray — a child’s experience, they can be counterproductive.  

Author Jennifer Torres said in children’s literature, books are often referred to as windows and mirrors: Mirror books allow a child to see themselves, their family and their experience positively reflected, while window literature is books that help kids understand communities and cultures different from their own.

On Saturday, Torres will lead a workshop, “Windows and Mirrors: Building Culturally Responsive Early Childhood Library,” on how to build a diverse library for young children and why it’s important. Participants will receive five books written by diverse children’s authors.

The event, which is intended for early childhood professionals, is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation and hosted by University of the Pacific, the San Joaquin County Office of Education, First 5 of San Joaquin, Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library and Barnes & Noble. The two sessions are at capacity, but to add your name to the wait list, visit sjckids.org/Events/Workshops-Trainings.

Through the workshop, participants will:

• Understand the importance of children’s literature in student’s social and educational development.

• Gain exposure to multicultural children’s literature. Lean to assess their own classroom libraries and identify gaps.

• Evaluate the quality of multicultural children’s book in order to make informed selections.

• Develop lesson and activity plans that integrate multicultural literature.

Lani Schiff-Ross, executive director of First 5 of San Joaquin, said the workshop will help educators understand how to introduce children to themes and situations different from what they’ve experienced and how to promote a conversation with kids.

“It’s not just about how do we read this book, but how do we have conversations?” she said.

Exposing young children to diverse characters can spark a love of books, for example, a young Muslim boy who sees someone like himself in literature may develop a joy for reading, she said. Or it can expand a child’s horizon and acceptance if he or she learns about people who may be different.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity to bring this information and new resources, and even a new way of looking at books and learning,” Schiff-Ross added.

Torres said she often hears the comment, “I don’t care who’s in the book, what’s important is what’s in the book,” but that avoids the point.

Diversifying book selections, including by religion, gender, class, ability and sexual identity, isn’t about lowering the standards, but thinking about how books are chosen, she said. There are many wonderful multicultural books available, but people need to look beyond the usual choices. It’s also important to realize there are some books that are considered classics that include harmful stereotypes, she added.

If books can do powerful, good things, then they can also do harm, she said.

Suzy Daveluy, deputy director of libraries, said the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library does a good job of purchasing material to serve the entire community, but it’s always a benefit to give library staff an opportunity to learn.

“We have such a richly diverse community and it’s so important for children to be able to see themselves in the books that they read and enjoy,” she said. “We tend to have our favorites, but I think it’s important to open up our eyes and see the rich literature that is out there and be aware of it so we can share it with children.”

Torres, who writes children’s books, said all her books are inspired by her Mexican-American family, but growing up she didn’t often come across experiences like hers in the books she read. It had a big influence on what she thought was possible and about which lives mattered, she said.

Said Daveluy: “Children are going to relate to what they read if they recognize themselves in it, and relating to the reading material is critical.”

For more information on the workshop, visit SJCkids.org or call (209) 953-5437.

Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or acarpizo@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.



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